Society and Community Linguistics research strand at the Bristol Centre for Linguistics (BCL)

Sounds Bristolian

Our work on the linguistic diversity of Bristol celebrates the kaleidoscope of languages, language varieties, language styles and language identities which make the City of Bristol and its surroundings distinctive. The project takes an inclusive and multidisciplinary approach to the importance that language has for people living in Bristol, and encourages research with Bristolians, rather than simply being about them. We also work with students as researchers on this project in the Studying Speech Communities module of our BA(Hons) English Language and Linguistics course.

Our current Sounds Bristolian project:

Perceptual Dialectology of the South West

Dr Grant Howie is conducting research on the spread of non-regional pronunciation (NRP) British English and its influence on the loss of regional dialectal features in the South West of England. This project employs a verbal guise method to investigate whether younger speakers are still able to differentiate between regional dialects and identify key dialectal markers, or if the younger generations are losing both production and perception of these features.

Language, Health and Body Image

Dr Charlotte Selleck, working with external partners from Warwickshire NHS, is addressing the language used to discuss weight and body image. Whilst it is generally understood that language and communication are key to health care, with ‘good’ communication seen as supporting ‘good’ patient care, it is often less clear what constitutes ‘good’ communication. This project seeks to better understand the issues from the perspective of both doctors and patients and seeks to identify linguistic strategies that may facilitate more effective communication.

Critical Discourse Analysis

Researchers in the Centre are interested in discursive construction of socio-political phenomena from a critical discourse analytical perspective. Professor Jonathan Charteris-Black and Dr Mark Nartey are interested in the rhetoric of political speeches. Dr Charlotte Selleck, Dr Mark Nartey, and Dr Luke Rudge are interested in how power manifests in language and how linguistic choices are influenced by wider social resources (culture, ideology and history).

Professor Charteris-Black has written extensively on political speeches, the communication of leadership and religious discourse. He has delivered various seminars for policymakers, politicians and speechwriters. 

Our current Critical Discourse Analysis projects:

Critical Metaphor Analysis

Professor Jonathan Charteris-Black has pioneered an approach to our understanding of metaphors called Critical Metaphor Analysis. The method has been followed by several scholars in the field. In his own work, he has applied the approach to political language (and see more in Critical Linguistics), narratives of illness, and religious discourse in his monograph, Fire Metaphors: Discourses of Awe and Authority.

Emancipatory discourses

Dr Mark Nartey continues to examine language use that serves emancipatory purposes by taking a social justice approach. This work highlights how members of non-dominant and marginalized (disempowered) groups sculpt a positive image for themselves, engage in solidarity formation for group empowerment and reconstruct their experiences in a manner that gives them voice, agency and a positive identity.

This work has resulted in several publications, including an edited volume titled Voice, agency and resistance: Emancipatory discourses in action. Nartey’s current work on emancipatory discourses investigates the language of female political leaders from the Global South to illustrate how their language functions as an empowering artifact and an inspiring resource.

Myth-making in media and politics

Dr Mark Nartey has extensively explored the relationship between discourse, ideology and mythology in political and media discourse.  The findings of his work have been published in his monograph titled Political myth-making, nationalist resistance and populist performance and in several journals in media and communication studies. Nartey has examined political myths such as Unite or Perish, the Conspiratorial Enemy, the Noble Revolutionary, the Valiant Leader and the Messiah. His work on myths, moral stories and narratives in the media illustrates how daily news content can be used to tell eternal stories.

The use of the Irish Language as a weapon/bastion in the political landscape of Northern Ireland

From the standpoint that speakers have a human right to be able to learn and speak their native/family language, Dr Grant Howie and Dr Kate Steel are interested in how the Irish Language has been perceived and used by both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland, from the Troubles until present. The project investigates how reference to any fields of metaphor, and their use, has evolved over this time. 

Forensic Linguistics

This strand of BCL’s research is concerned with the use of language in legal and investigative contexts. This strand is strongly practice-focused and we work closely with our practitioner partners to inform policy and training with linguistic research.

Dr Kate Steel is committed to improving the communicative experiences of vulnerable people within the legal process, and she conducted the first empirical analysis of first response police-victim interactions in domestic abuse cases. Another key project is a collaborative study by Dr Minna Kirjavainen-Morgan, examining the nature and impact of filled pauses during police investigative interviews.

Our current Forensic Linguistics projects:

Police-victim communication during domestic abuse first response call-outs

The decision to summon the police in an emergency can prove pivotal for a victim of domestic abuse, depending on the quality of the police response. This ongoing research project by Dr Kate Steel draws from police body-worn video footage to explore interactions between attending officers and reported victims during first response call-outs to the scene of domestic abuse incidents. This is the first study of communication in this context to analyse authentic speech data. Of primary concern are police questioning strategies, rapport-building, the assignment of responsibility, and the interactional management of space.

Hesitation in police/court interviews

Even though hesitation (e.g. filled pauses such as um and uh) are a normal part of language, we know that hesitation in police interviews / court appearances make the listeners perceive the speaker (e.g. witness, suspect) as not being truthful. With Dr Felicity Deamer (Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics) and Dr Lucia Busso (Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics), Dr Minna Kirjavainen-Morgan is investigating the impact of police interviewers’ filled pause use on the witnesses/suspects’ subsequent filled pause use.

Language Attitudes and Stereotyping

BCL researchers are interested in how language and our perceptions of it interact with a variety of situations and contexts. Dr Charlotte Selleck conducts ethnographic research into Welsh language education and the uptake of private education within Wales. She also works alongside migrant families and their home language use in the Bristol area.

In other areas, Dr Minna Kirjavainen-Morgan, Dr Grant Howie and Dr Luke Rudge are interested in how typos and grammar issues in second language (L2) writing are perceived by native speakers and whether native speaker expectations (stereotypes) impact sympathy towards the L2 authors.

Our current Language Attitudes and Stereotyping projects:

Stereotyping and language ability judgements

Dr Minna Kirjavainen-Morgan, Dr Grant Howie and Dr Luke Rudge  are investigating if different non-native speaker groups’ grammatical and/or lexical errors are judged differently in comparison to each other and to a native English speaker group, and if these differences are influenced by informal and formal contexts. This will give us an insight into whether the speaker’s expected language level affects the level with which the hearer perceives the speaker’s language proficiency.

Modern foreign language learning in the Welsh context

Dr Charlotte Selleck continues her work on the Sociolinguistics of Wales by addressing the precarious situation for modern foreign languages (MFL) in Wales today. The ethnographic research seeks to understand and unpack the complex relationship between Welsh and MFL.

The gendered migrant experience

Dr Charlotte Selleck works with Bristol’s Somali community to explore questions around language policy, both at home and at a local level. She has considered the choices families make around which language to use in the home and the pressures which parents and children come under when it comes to deciding whether to speak Somali or English. She is currently working with Dr Rona Lockyer-Sheppard on an interdisciplinary project that explores British-Somali experiences of fatherhood.

Bristol Centre for Linguistics

The Bristol Centre for Linguistics creates a platform for knowledge exchange on linguistics as well as highlights the relevance of language research to the public.


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